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Perennial signs of fall

| Sunday, Sept. 23, 2007

As the crimson and gold leaves float gently to earth, my thoughts drift back to the long-ago autumns of my misspent youth.

During all the years I languished in a minimum-security correctional facility (read grade school), the very first sign of fall was the unfailing appearance of a chart titled, "Signs of fall." Invariably, in the teacher's very best penmanship, it listed such things as: The days are getting shorter; the leaves are changing color; and the weather is getting cooler.

Ah, the comforting predictability of it all. Would that life were still that simple. Alas, for most of us, the signs of fall are now somewhat more subtle.

For instance, one of the first signs you may notice is that teachers, instead of camp counselors, are now the ones who are writing you rather unpleasant notes complaining about your kids.

The next sign of fall (and one that is closely related to the first one): Your kids are now complaining about their teachers, instead of their camp counselors. "She's so mean." "She just doesn't like me."

(Aside to all you parents out there: Like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill, you're not going to get anywhere with any of the parties here, so let's move on.)

Another dead giveaway that fall is just around the corner: The phone rings, and it's Millicent Dunwoodie asking you to serve as a class mother. This is one baby that you should give some careful thought to. Becoming a class mother, like becoming a regular mother, is what I call a mousetrap situation: It's a lot harder to get out of than to get into.

Some guidelines to consider:

* Do you feel that your calling in life is to bake cupcakes by the dozens, and then listen to the little darlings say, "Yuck! I hate chocolate" or "Yuck! I hate vanilla" -- depending, of course, on which flavor you've made?

* Are you totally fulfilled by making 25 tree costumes for the Arbor Day program -- out of crepe paper?

* Do you genuinely enjoy going on class trips which are carefully planned so that all verses of "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" can be sung on the bus at least 35 times?

If you have answered "yes" to all three questions, by all means go for it.

The next sign that autumn is approaching: You decide that the spring cleaning you never quite got around to last spring will now be renamed "fall cleaning." Don't feel the least big guilty about this. If your husband -- or worse yet, your mother-in-law -- should pass some uncalled-for remark, draw yourself up to your full height and cry, "A rose by any other name ..." Just a word of caution before we leave this subject: There is a limit as to how many times you can pull this name-change stunt. If in doubt, call your local board of health.

Another unmistakable sign of fall: You discover that all the winter clothes you packed away so carefully last spring have shrunk. Curiously enough, the children's clothes seem to have shrunk mostly in the arms and legs, but the grownups' clothes have become smaller mostly around the stomach, hips and thighs.

I spoke to a research scientist about this, and he ventured the opinion that it most likely had something to do with beer and ice cream. Isn't that just about the silliest thing you ever heard• I mean, I never put any beer or ice cream in with the clothes when I put them away. It certainly makes you wonder about the future of scientific research in our country, if there are many folks like him running around loose in labs.

And the very surest sign of fall is this: You hear a loud whooshing sound. You might think it's the autumn wind, but it's not. It's the collective sigh breathed by the mothers of America when they realize that fall -- with its glorious promise the kids will be out of the house all day -- has arrived.

To submit articles for First Person, Singular, send an e-mail to focus@tribweb.com or mail to: Susan Jones, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, D.L. Clark Building, 503 Martindale St., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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